After a week of mass organizing across Nigeria, officials announced on Sunday, Oct. 11, their intentions to dissolve the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), a particular unit of the Nigerian Police Force known for corrupt policing and excessive use of (often lethal) force.
Protesters have continued to hit the streets following the announcement, unconvinced that state officials will follow through. Officials have promised police reform for years, and the rampant police brutality has only gotten more severe. If the mass mobilizations end now, many Nigerians don’t believe that officials would seriously address issues of police brutality. In fact, already there is word of creating a new police unit that would replace SARS.
SARS was founded in 1992 as a way to combat the rising rate of robbery in Lagos; however, these specialized units very quickly cropped up in every state of Nigeria. The unit originally focused only on robbery, but their role expanded to include kidnapping and cultism. As their rules of engagement became increasingly broad and ill-defined, the unit devolved into corruption, brutality, and unprofessionalism, paralleling the decaying structure of the Nigerian police force as a whole.
Protest in Port Harcourt. (Okezie Adindu)
Allegations of extrajudicial killings, bribery, extortion, sexual assault, and harassment seem never-ending when it comes to the Nigerian police, especially SARS in particular.
Horrific history of police brutality and misconduct
In late 2009, a report by Amnesty International stated that hundreds of people are unlawfully killed by the Nigerian police every year. Many of these murders are the result of excessive force during arrest. Others are simply extrajudicial executions by police officers. Some officers have even killed people for failing to pay a bribe to officers—and this is only the most severe form of extortion.
In June (2020), Amnesty International reported that Nigerian authorities had failed to prosecute even one single SARS officer for misconduct. This is despite anti-torture legislation passed in 2017 and substantial evidence that SARS officers have continued to torture people taken into custody—sometimes to death. In February, BBC African Eye even uncovered footage of torture being used by multiple branches of the Nigerian police and armed forces. One particular form of torture seems to be widely used on detainees, both as punishment and during interrogation—the method has even been used on children detainees.
This has been going on for well over a decade, yet Nigerian officials fail to act, instead preferring to turn a blind eye to the brutality, extortion, and lack of professionalism. Perpetrators face no legal justice, and the families of victims very rarely receive any sort of reparations.
Protesters familiar with empty promises of police reform
In spite of the president’s assurances to reform the police, and the subsequent announcement that SARS would be dissolved given by the Inspector General of Police of Nigeria, protests have not slowed.Protesters are demanding the unconditional release of those arrested during this last week of protest.
Further, the Nigerian people have seen countless instances of governmental promises to reform the police that never come to fruition. In fact, just two days after the announcement that SARS would be “disbanded,” the Inspector General of Police then announced plans to replace SARS with a new policing unit, this time under the new name Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team.
It’s unlikely this new policing unit will address the issues seen in SARS. Consider that in 2018, the government set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the activities of SARS and make recommendations for reform. The commission’s report has yet to even be made public—and this is almost two years after the panel submitted its findings to the government.
Of course, you hardly need an official report to notice misconduct within SARS. Viral videos capturing countless acts of brutality by SARS officers dominate the internet in Nigeria. Nigerian youths are especially likely to be victimized. SWAT will almost certainly continue this legacy of police brutality, and this is why the mass mobilizations in Nigeria are not about to subside any time soon.
Relationship to global movement for Black Lives Matter
“Our lives matter!” chant protesters in Port Harcourt. “End police brutality!”
The movement in Nigeria is, of course, part of a larger movement that’s been happening internationally. What began in the U.S. following the murder of George Floyd has spread to countries all over the world, demanding an end to police brutality and the racist targeting and murder of Black lives.
This indicates just how influential these kinds of mass mobilizations can be. Further, this trend has strong implications for the self-determination of oppressed peoples. Nigeria, once a British colony, officially attained independence back in 1960, but the impact of imperialism remains a strong influence on the country.
What has been achieved in a few days of relentless effort is an indication of the power of the masses working together as a united front. In Nigeria, people face political corruption, insecurity, and total government failure to provide basic needs like housing and medical care. This victory has shown the masses of Nigeria that their power lies in independent organizing against the oppressors.
As the class struggle in Nigeria deepens, workers will see the importance in organizing a revolutionary political party independent of the ruling class. After all, we have nothing to lose but our chains!
Pop feminism in the United States. Taking a look at the US, there is an undeniable link between gender and class, with women throughout the US not getting the right to vote until 1920. While women can now participate in electoral politics, their economic position has hardly budged since the suffrage movement. Prior to the […]
“Neoliberal theorists are, however, profoundly suspicious of democracy. Governance by majority rule is seen as a potential threat to individual rights and constitutional liberties. Democracy is viewed as a luxury, only possible under conditions of relative affluence coupled with a strong middle-class presence to guarantee political stability. Neoliberals therefore tend to favour governance by experts and elites.”
I could go on, but I’d rather not because talking about the DNC is honestly just boring. Now I’m not saying election corruption necessarily lost Bernie the nomination. It’s possible he’d have lost even if this were a fair election (though, not sure the extreme concentration of media ownership ever constitutes a “fair” election).
But all things considered, I’d understand if a lot of people heavily-invested in Bernie’s campaign (his “bros,” is the proper terminology, I believe) are furious with the DNC right now.
NOTE: People like me are not why he lost, if that’s what you’re thinking. I fully intended on voting for him in the primaries (I’m registered in a state that hasn’t voted yet, so it’s sort of moot now), and I strongly encouraged everyone and their grandmother to vote for the guy on the off-chance it worked. I’ve gone without healthcare before, I’ve had a number of shitty run-ins with the criminal justice system, and I’m in hella debt. I’d have been stoked if Bernie got in there and lifted that authoritarian boot off my face, even just a little bit.
Welcome to the Bern Unit.
So instead of Bernie, the DNC is riden’ with Biden…an old man riddled with dementia known for, uh, yeah…
Bernie Sanders endorsed Joe Biden because he ultimately doesn’t believe a progressive movement is possible without backing from the DNC. He doesn’t believe a workers party is possible at all―the DNC and RNC are both political parties that represent the ruling (capitalist) class interests. This is why electoral politics in the US collapses into what is essentially a culture war…neither party represents the interests of working people. Nor do they represent the interests of small business owners…if lobbying isn’t in your budget, then expect this ruling class to throw you under the bus the moment it benefits them (e.g. COVID-19 bailouts that essentially screwed over everyone but massive corporations).
Staying within this two-party system framework forces you to assume the position that some workers do need to be sacrificed to maintain the existence of an extremely wealthy capitalist class. What changes is which workers you deem expendable. Do you draw the line at child labor, but excuse low wage labor exploitation? Do you draw the line at white workers, but excuse the exploitation of people of color? Do you draw the line at American workers, but excuse exploitation overseas? Do you draw the line at college-educated young adults, but excuse young military recruits being sent into excessively dangerous situations?
These are all morality arguments that hinge on the cultural norms you grew up with. And yeah, the Bernie campaign really did push back on this: Not me, us. No one needs to be sacrificed!
And such a stance is materially opposed to any political party representing the ruling class. Like, say, the DNC. A capitalist political party that really does love rules and formality and civility…which is why Trump is so offensive to them. He’s so crass, it’s no wonder the poors love him (which…they don’t really, but reality’s never stopped the libs before).
The libs love a good loophole, are suspicious of real democracy, and they want to maintain their own class (the ruling class) far more than they want their own little cultural wing of the party to succeed. Sure, they think Trump lacks taste, but at least he isn’t talking about redistribution.
They’re so ineffective, it almost seems…performative. Like they don’t really oppose Trump’s political agenda that much, they just think he’s gauche.
You fell for one of the classic blunders: the popular front vs. the united front.
The Bernie campaign wasn’t a workers movement, so much as it was a popular front due to its reliance on the DNC. A popular front is an alliance between workers and the capitalist ruling class…one that relies on that capitalist class support to sustain itself. The issue with this sort of organizing lies in that fundamental power imbalance. While workers in the movement sacrifice their political goals in an effort to make “realistic” demands (e.g. demands the ruling class may willingly give up), the ruling class is never actually obligated to give anything. You’ve made it clear you think working with them is the only route to power. You’re not a threat to them, so why would they give up anything?
This was the flaw in trying to “take over” the Democratic party. You’ve literally told them you don’t think a workers movement is possible without backing from the DNC. The leftwing of the capitalist class isn’t you’re fucking roommate…they’re not just going to give you rights because you showed a willingness to compromise.
This is opposed to the united front, which is a coalition of working people who unite around a shared political goal. For instance, the push for ending child labor in the US constituted a united front, with some groups in the coalition being explicitly socialist, while others were the working children themselves, many of whom likely did not identify as socialist. Still, others may have been small business owners (who are not actually in the capitalist ruling class despite not entirely being workers either).
The united front doesn’t need to make concessions to some ruling class allies to sustain itself. As such, it is typically this type of coalition-building that lends to a weakening of ruling class power, as opposed to a mere reshuffling of how labor exploitation occurs. Child labor laws didn’t mean adult workers would need to work longer hours at lower pay…they meant capitalists materially got to extract less profit from laborers. This was an actual economic win for the working class.
Of course, if your organizations dissolve because “we did it,” you risk capitalists slinking back to steal back the profits they lost while no one’s organized enough to react. They’ll always extract as much profit as they think they can get away with. My boyfriend grew up doing unpaid labor for commercial construction projects…so child labor in the US. This was in a religious cult, so the upaid part made him “closer to God,” or some shit. It also made the cult leader/capitalist a shit load of money. And while this might surprise some that this took place in the US, I hope it’s not news that US corporations use overseas child labor all the time.
This is what happens when your movement is about reshuffling oppressions, rather than materially changing conditions for all workers. Stop giving up ground to a capitalist party that literally owes you nothing in return. Meanwhile, that compromising is very often what’s limiting your movement. If your organizing could include all workers in the US, but you limit your scope to citizens as a stipulation of a popular front alliance with the capitalist class…the capitalists will fuck you over, and you’ve just shown non-citizens that their rights are negotiable. That is more damaging to the movement than telling the ruling class you will not capitulate to their demands. Honestly, that’s very likely why they proposed you do it in the first place. They didn’t just waste your time, they set you back.
That’s how you get supposed feminists telling rape survivors that they’re morally bad if they don’t vote for the blue rapist. That’s how you get all these motivated leftists thinking, what the fuck do I do now? That’s how you get people throwing up their hands and bailing on the political realm altogether. It’s how you get people thinking politics is just voting. That’s how you get black, transgender, and disabled comrades feeling like they have no place in the movement aside from occasionally being some sacrificial pawn so we can maintain an alliance with capital.
Taking a look at the US, there is an undeniable link between gender and class, with women throughout the US not getting the right to vote until 1920. While women can now participate in electoral politics, their economic position has hardly budged since the suffrage movement. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, wealth inequality in the US was as bad as it was in the roaring 20s, and it’s only worsened since the outbreak; further, women are still far more likely to live in poverty than men. The gendered nature of poverty can largely be attributed to what labor capitalism deems valuable: “Women do at least twice as much unpaid care work, such as childcare and housework, as men – sometimes 10 times as much, often on top of their paid work.” As a result, feminine persons often work more and get paid less than their masculine counterparts. Women’s rights are largely workers rights, meaning feminism cannot really be divorced from class in a coherent way.
Hilary Clinton, girl boss.
These are all genuine problems…so how did feminism seriously become Hilary Clinton’s brand? This person is wealthier and more powerful than anyone I’ve ever met in real life. The Clintons are currently multi-millionaires, with Bill and Hilary both attending Yale Law School. While it’s often stated she came from modest means, her father was a college-educated businessman who owned his own textile company. Which maybe isn’t as relatable as political pundits think it is.
Beyond this, Hilary grew up in a different economic time:
Like all women of her generation, Hillary faced formidable sexism, fighting for rights women now take for granted. But like many women of her generation, she also benefited from being born in an era when upward mobility was arguably more feasible, at least economically. […]
The Clintons rise to power was not buoyed by inherited wealth, but by a system that allowed lower and middle-class baby boomers increasing access to higher education and prestigious jobs. But the contemporary versions of Bill and Hillary Clinton—talented middle-class or lower-class students from the Midwest or South—may find that achieving the same success will be stymied by their family’s class status or their geographical distance from centers of power. The prototype for a future Hillary is someone who grew up more like Chelsea Clinton—wealthy, connected, and able to pursue multiple advanced degrees.
Now I’d forgive a naive, well-meaning baby boomer for being unaware of this economic shift, but Hilary Clinton literally played a role in this push towards a neoliberalized economy. She made life materially worse for many women in America, all while putting her girl boss power into absolutely ruining the lives of many women abroad: “As Secretary of State Clinton was a forceful advocate for escalating US military operations in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. She also presided over the expansion of drone attacks that have killed hundreds, if not thousands of civilians (up to 90% not being the intended targets).”
So how the hell did someone like this become some sort of icon of feminism?
Sometimes movements just need a little rebranding before they’re profitable.
While identity politics and social movements are all susceptible to recuperation, we’re going to focus on the feminist movement in the US.
This is when more radical ideas become sanitized so as to eliminate their more threatening aspects. That is, anything that threatens the powerful must be sanded away. Done well, once radical concepts can become tools for maintaining the current structure of power. It may even become laughable that these ideas ever posed a genuine threat to the ruling class.
We’ll refer to this degenerated form of feminism as liberal feminism; The book Feminism for the 99 Percent explains that the aim of liberal feminism is,
“…not equality, but meritocracy. Rather than seeking to abolish social hierarchy, it aims to ‘diversify’ it, ‘empowering’ ‘talented’ women to rise to the top. […]
“In general, then, liberal feminism supplies the perfect alibi for neoliberalism. Cloaking regressive policies in an aura of emancipation, it enables the forces supporting global capital to portray themselves as ‘progressive.’”
Liberal feminism is one example of how social movements are essentially de-fanged under capitalism, re-configured to be a tool that sustains oppression, often under the guise of being “progressive.” Capitalism is a system that requires homelessness, prison labor, and colonialist resource extraction (such as oil extraction aided by the threat of military force). To justify these extreme inequalities, proponents of the system (1) must maintain that no real alternative exists, and (2) absorb any movements that assert otherwise (e.g. recuperation), giving themselves the aesthetic of social progress (e.g. “good” capitalists), all while maintaining the status quo.
How was feminism ever a threat to the powerful?
Child labor laws? That’s communism!
The suffrage movement drastically altered the US political system. Keep in mind this doubled the number of eligible voters, and this meant a sudden, significant shift in voting demographics. While this was more piecemeal due to some states altering voter eligibility before others, this was nonetheless a rapid shift in voter concerns. This altered the scope of electoral political issues permanently. The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibited the employment of minors, e.g. this was the main law that outlawed the use of exploitative child labor in the US. This law passed in 1938…just 18 years after women won the right to vote. The movement against child labor was actually originally sparked by census results:
“The 1900 census revealed that approximately 2 million children were working in mills, mines, fields, factories, stores, and on city streets across the United States. The census report helped spark a national movement to end child labor in the United States. […] Social reformers began to condemn child labor because of its detrimental effect on the health and welfare of children. Among those helping to incite public opinion against it were Karl Marx and Charles Dickens, who had worked at a factory himself at age 12.”
While generally people in the US oppose the use of child labor today, it’s important to understand that this was a massive change in US economics, one fueled by the political shift following the suffrage movement. Nowadays, many view child labor restrictions as “common sense,” but this was far from the case. Capitalists were harshly opposed to the movement, with many claiming this was a “communist-inspired plot to subvert the Constitution.” I think the why here should be obvious: without child labor, capitalists would stand to make money at a reduced rate (they still fucking made money off other people’s labor, of course).
Tonight while we sleep, several thousand little girls will be working in textile mills, all the night through, in the deafening noise of the spindles and the looms spinning and weaving cotton and wool, silks and ribbons for us to buy.
There was a great deal of overlap between women’s suffrage and the movement against child labor. Without the feminist movement, it’s difficult to imagine how the Fair Labor Standards Act would have ever passed. This was truly deemed an “extreme” position. So yes, the feminist movement posed a massive economic threat to those in power…and they won. Because organizing does work, and maybe the reason you think it doesn’t is because it threatens someone’s profit margins.
The Russian Revolution began with women protesting on International Women’s Day.
The Russian Revolution was a mass uprising of workers that ultimately overthrew the Russian monarchy. It’s typically cited as happening in 1917, but this was really a culmination of labor organizing and political action. On January 22, 1905, workers led by priest Georgy Apollonovich Gaponmarched marched to the Czar’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg with a petition of demands, including fair wages and the gradual transfer of land to the people. A year earlier, similar demands for reform were made at a conference of regional governments (an assembly originally held to drum up support for an incredibly unpopular campaign for war with Japan), but these demands had continued to go unmet. Thus, workers took to marching their petition to the palace doors. There, imperial forces open fired on the unarmed workers, killing over a thousand people according to police records, in a massacre that would later be referred to as Bloody Sunday.
Strikes and massive protests followed the massacre, eventually forcing the Czar to form a series of representative assemblies (e.g. the king gave concession of representative democracy). This, uh, didn’t work out. I know, shocking, seeing how effective our representative democracy has been so far. Turns out all the parties were loyal to the ruling class and not the workers. So, like, totally unlike the Democrats and Republicans in the US…nothing to see here, guys.
Working conditions worsened, and overlord Czar was pushing for a war no one wanted. Tensions finally broke on International Women’s Day in 1917:
“Historians generally agree that the February Revolution began in Petrograd on International Women’s Day, 23 February (Old Style: 8 March) 1917, when thousands of women from different backgrounds took to the streets demanding bread and increased rations for soldiers’ families.”
Pamphlets were handed out, and it’s likely this literature ignited the ensuing 1917 revolutions that would eventually end the rule by the Russian monarchy. A translation from one such pamphlet reads:
Proletarians of all countries, unite! […]
Factory owners work both male and female comrades to exhaustion. Both men and women are thrown in jail for going on strike. Both men and women need to struggle against the owners. But women entered the family of workers later than men. Often, they still are afraid and do not know what they should demand and how to demand it. The owners have always used their ignorance and timidity against them and still do.
On this day, especially, comrades, let’s think about how we can conquer our enemy, the capitalist, as quickly as possible. […]
This terrible slaughter [e.g. WWI] has now gone into its third year. Our fathers, husbands, and brothers are perishing. Our dear ones arrive home as unfortunate wretches and cripples. The tsarist government sent them to the front. It maimed and killed them, but it does not care about their sustenance [hence the call for increased rations]. […]
There is no end in sight to the shedding of worker blood. Workers were shot down on Bloody Sunday, January 9, 1905, and massacred during the Lena Goldfields strike in April 1912. More recently, workers were shot in Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Shuia, Gorlovka, and Kostroma. Worker blood is shed on all fronts. The empress trades in the peoples’ blood and sells off Russia piece by piece. They send nearly unarmed soldiers to certain death by shooting. They kill hundreds of thousands of people on the front and they profit financially from this. […]
It is hard for working people not only in Russia, but in all countries. Not long ago the German government cruelly suppressed an uprising of the hungry in Berlin. In France, the police are in a fury. They send people to the front for going on strike. Everywhere the war brings disaster, a high cost of living, and oppression of the working class.
Comrades, working women, for whose sake is war waged? Do we need to kill millions of Austrian and German workers and peasants? […] War is waged for the sake of gold, which glitters in the eyes of capitalists, who profit from it. […] Workers and peasants will bear all the sacrifices and pay all the costs. […]
They are ruined themselves. The government is guilty. It began this war and cannot end it. […] The capitalists are guilty. It is waged for their profit. It’s well-nigh time to shout to them: Enough! Down with the criminal government and its entire gang of thieves and murderers. Long live peace! […]
Down with the autocracy!
Long live the Revolution!
NOTE: Check out the following related article for one awesome example of revolutionary, anti-colonialist feminism in Africa during this same time period:
Comrades, let us be clear: there is no true social revolution without the liberation of women. In Africa, the contribution of women in the fight against imperialism must be acknowledged for its crucial role in our revolutionary journey. In this article, we tell the story of the 1929 women’s revolution in Southeastern Nigeria. What were […]
The feminist movement played a key role in overthrowing a massive empire. The Romanov family ruled over Russia for over 300 years, and this abusive, tyrannical regime finally began to collapse thanks to the organizing of some revolutionary women, saying no, you’re not sending our men off to certain death in a rich man’s war just to let them starve if they make it back home. Enough is enough.
What does liberal feminism have to do with immigration policy?
In Angela Nagle’s piece on the liberal dystopia that is Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, she points out the material affect this labor distribution has on a population where neoliberal policies prevail:
“US fertility rates are the lowest since records began in 1909 at about 1.85 births per woman. The US population, in other words, is no longer “naturally replacing” itself. Unlike the tale however, this is not due to ecological disaster. Today women’s long work hours combined with the continued burden of domestic work are causing increased levels of stress and ill health, with short maternity leave, expensive child care, and a low level of social prestige to the unpaid work of motherhood and domestic labor. Despite all of this Pew research shows that while birth rates may have collapsed the desire to have children has not, with the ideal in polls still remaining “two or more,” and 40 percent of American women nearing the end of their childbearing years having fewer children than they would like.”
While the leftwing capitalist party in the US (the Democrats) oppose criminalizing abortion and tout the importance of (liberal) feminism, they seem uninterested in addressing certain forms of gendered violence. In fact, the “progressive” issues they often focus on tend to obscure their own support of continued systems of oppression. Lean in feminism, and “girl boss” aspirations insist that women ought to find fulfillment in the workplace, framing all criticism of this liberal brand of feminism as backwards women belong in the kitchen sentimentality. Keep in mind, a declining population means capitalists would eventually face a labor shortage. Thus, when liberals say, “immigration fuels the economy,” take them at their word. This is the motivation for their pro-immigration stance, not concern for the lives of actual immigrants.
“U.S. immigration law and its enforcement have never eliminated Mexicans from the workforce, but indirectly control the conditions under which they live and work. Mexican academic Jorge Bustamante argues that a primary purpose of U.S. immigration law historically has been—and still is—to regulate the price of Mexican labor in the United States.”
From their perspective, it’s cheaper to push American women into the workforce and instead rely on importing a new generation of workers (or exporting the work itself)…viewing this as some sort of generosity requires a complete misunderstanding of the global economy. Undeveloped countries aren’t merely lagging behind, they’re intentionally kept in a state of underdevelopment, as this is optimal for western exploitation. For a specific example of this, check out our article Capitalism in Nigeria, and a call for unity of the proletariat!
NOTE: Further, see The Guardian’s piece on how poor countries develop rich countries, not the other way around, economist William Easterly’s book The Tyranny of Experts, and anthropologist David Graeber’s book Debt: The First 5,000 Years.
“But Democrats are the lesser evil of the two parties.”
This pro-immigration stance coupled with “girl boss” feminism is the platform of their “progressiveness.” This isn’t accidental. There will always be a moral argument for why some current mode of oppression is liberating, and this will always be contrasted with some previous mode of oppression…that is the “progress” of liberalism. How exploitation is carried out never really changes beyond an aesthetic shift, and very often the backwardsness of rightwing political figures is in their inability to let go of the old aesthetics. Once this becomes clear, the “lesser evil” of either capitalist political party becomes nothing more than personal preference. Politics collapses into the spectacle of a “culture war.”
NOTE: There is a racist, antisemitic, and misogynistic conspiracy theory, referred to as the Great Replacement that’s motivated mass shooters, including the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand, and the El Paso shooting (with the gunman stating, “this attack is in response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”). The bit is that “the Jews” are encouraging immigration and interracial marriage as a way to “genocide” the so-called white race. Oh, and women “fall for it” because they’re dumb whores with no loyalty, or something. If you think anything I’ve just said here about abortion and immigration “proves” this bullshit, seriously fuck off.
For more on this rise in violence fueled by white supremacist ideology, read Kathleen Belew’s book Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. So many of these far-right terror attacks originate in white supremacy and misogyny, many of them not involving guns at all (such as the Toronto van attack, or the fatal car attack in Charlottesville), which is why I genuinely don’t think guns are the problem, and yeah, I think the focus on gun reform has more to do with disarming the working class (especially the black working class) than a genuine concern for safety. If you think leftists are anti-gun, check out the Socialist Rifle Association (SRA), and consider the words of Marx and Engels: “under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary.”
Considering the previous considerations for why capitalists may promote liberal feminism, it becomes clear that the Democratic stance in favor of reproductive healthcare (such as access to contraceptives and abortions) likely has less to do with an individual woman’s right to her own body, and has more to do with the push towards women entering the workforce. If the next generation of labor can be outsourced to other countries, then they eliminate the cost of care labor (for themselves). Further, the gendered wage gap likely means women entering the workforce translates into increased profits. The increase in job-seekers overall allows for a “job market” where companies hold all the power over people desperate to find work. This pushes us further towards gig economy work (Uber, DoorDash, OnlyFans), a shift that undermines a century of workers protections.
NOTE: It’s also worth mentioning that the “right” to an abortion is often not blocked by the legality of the procdure, but is rather blocked by a lack of healthcare funding or accessible facilities. And by “accessible,” I mean that in the concrete-sense. Democrats often discuss access to healthcare, not in the way that obtaining coverage is easy and affordable, but instead that coverage technically exists, provided you’re willing to put a lien on your house, sell your first-born, and never retire. This is not real access.
Reproductive rights that don’t extend past the pregnancy itself are not really reproductive rights at all. Rather, they constitute a reshuffling of capitalist labor extraction. A reshuffling that would never be considered if it didn’t maintain or increase profits. Keep this in mind next time a liberal attempts to use “feminism” as a bludgeon against the working class. This deceptive notion that feminism means “more female CEOs” is recuperation at its worst. Beyond a mere perversion of revolutionary ideas, this liberal conception of feminism as equal opportunity plutocracy is damaging to the vast majority of working class women. Pretending it is harmless is ignoring the cynical way in which it is employed to shield powerful politicians from criticism.
Manufactured Misogyny: The DNC doesn’t give a shit about women.
Skepticism of a standing US Senator’s political honesty is sexist since feminism = “girl boss” idol-worship, apparently.
During the 2020 Democratic primary in the US, we witnessed the media pushing a narrative that Bernie is a sexist. This really kicked off after the other so-called progressive candidate Elizabeth Warren claimed Bernie made sexist remarks in a private meeting they had, supposedly stating that he did not believe a woman could win. Despite this being a one-on-one meeting and Bernie denying the comments were made at all, CNN published an article as if this were a confirmed event, backed up by (multiple) sources. Keep in mind, if Bernie really did claim a woman couldn’t win, that doesn’t mean he believed a woman shouldn’t win. Rather, such a statement (at least to me) comes off as genuine concern that sexism could play a significant role in the 2020 election. I mean, is electability not one of the primary things mainstream media focused on in this primary election?
Despite this likely interpretation of a conversation that can’t even be confirmed as happening, Bernie Sanders and his “Bernie Bros” were deemed sexists. Actually, anyone expressing skepticism that Warren was being truthful was deemed sexist, with hit pieces flooding in that America has a problem with “believing women,” (which…if that’s the case, then wouldn’t the conclusion be that a woman is not likely to win in 2020, just like Bernie supposedly said?). With influential liberals like Neera Tanden and Julia Loffe describing this event with “believe women” rhetoric, there is a very intentional link being made between skepticism of a major political figure’s statements and literal sexual assault survivors in the #MeToo movement.
NOTE: Warren walked back her support on Medicare for All…this is what led many of her progressive supporters to second-guess her political honesty. That, and her weird PR stunt “proving” her Native American heritage.
Biden can have a little rape.
Naively, I would have thought drawing a parallel between sexual assault victims, and a US Senator facing criticism online, would be highly offensive within the realm of liberal feminism. But it’s not! Because the rules aren’t logical, the rules are meant to serve the ruling class by shutting down genuine criticisms under the guise of morality. Which is why credible sexual assault allegations launched at Joe Bidendon’t matter. Instead, there is rampant shaming directed at those genuinely upset over this, with liberals claiming any and all criticism of Joe Biden is “helping” Donald Trump. The DNC did not have to make a rapist their nominee.
We’re seeing that for many liberal feminists, maintaining the legitimacy of the Democratic party as a “progressive” party is the goal…the #MeToo movement was merely a tool for achieving that goal. One that could be dropped and replaced with the bludgeon of capitalist realism in the form of enforcing the two-party political system as the absolute extent of US politics: vote blue no matter who, not voting Biden is a vote for Trump, and voting third party is ‘throwing away’ your vote.
Two parties, one goal.
I’m going to propose something that may seem a little crazy…the leftwing of the ruling class doesn’t really care if Trump wins. Their real enemy was you. This is a class war.
The fact that Bernie’s campaign and many of his followers insist that a third party isn’t viable, the fact that Bernie’s endorsement of Biden has made many “lose hope in the revolution,” the fact that this whole campaign has genuinely convinced a lot of younger leftists that change only happens through the ballot box…the ruling class won. And they didn’t even need to give you a participation trophy because you never actually threatened their position of power. You have zero fucking leverage.
If you’re a Bernie supporter who’s interested in being bullied by my hot takes, check out my follow-up article The Democrats don’t care about democracy. (it’s shorter than this article), where I go into a bit more detail of why I think running Bernie in the DNC was a failed battle from the start.
NOTE: I thought it was a solid idea to “take over” the Democratic party by the way. It’s only in the last few months that I’ve really started to investigate strategy enough to conclude this was sort of a doomed mission. It’s ok to be wrong because you didn’t have all the information. We need to stop letting ego dictate the conversation, and we need to start genuinely collaborating.
The follow-up Bernie autopsy people are literally screaming at me to not give.
The DNC does not have to hold fair elections. “Neoliberal theorists are, however, profoundly suspicious of democracy. Governance by majority rule is seen as a potential threat to individual rights and constitutional liberties. Democracy is viewed as a luxury, only possible under conditions of relative affluence coupled with a strong middle-class presence to guarantee political […]
Further, I propose an approach to revolutionary politics that I think is more sustainable. One that appears to work historically…I relate this back to the push to abolish child labor in the US. I plan on eventually publishing another article that goes into more detail about how these approaches can be adapted to the present.
Science is always biased. Yeah, even if there’s a lot of math in it. I’m not anti-math or anti-science…quite the opposite, really. And while I don’t really care to go into my personal background too much here, suffice to say I have a lot of experience in scientific research and mathematical modeling. And while I’m opposed to professionalization barring people from discussing science (why will likely be made clear by the end of this essay), my point is that I am what most would consider to be a professional scientist and/or mathematician. Getting to that point was difficult: my family’s never had enough money, and they’ve never put much weight on academic achievement. That’s not to say they weren’t supportive, more that it was often pretty blurry to them what they were even supporting me to do. I mean, it was blurry even to me. It still feels like I stumbled through schooling, all just to wind up poorer than my high school dropout older brother. But I kept doing it, not because I’m a high-achiever or a hard worker. I’m not, which was a real fucking disappointment to a lot of project advisors and professors, honestly. I just liked it. And despite my chronic disinterest in attaining any sort of official marker of success, I’d make myself push through all sorts of bullshit if it meant I got to keep doing research.
However, I take issue with a lot of this sort of “mythos” around scientific research, tech development, and modeling. It’s not objective and unbiased. I don’t even mean that it’s sometimes biased, I’m saying it’s always biased. It just is. In the words of Ben Shapiro, noted opinion-haver, facts don’t care about your feelings. You can’t avoid it.
All scientific research, and all mathematical models require assumptions. And the prevailing ideology of the culture you live in is going to influence what assumptions you make. This isn’t necessarily bad, it simply is. However, science, models, and tech-development tend to go bad when we decide that those assumptions don’t matter, when they do, or when we insist there is no value-judgement motivating the assumptions (e.g. that these assumptions are universal, rather than relative to some sort of ideology/value system). This can be as seemingly-mundane as the assumption that knowing what a molecular bond structure looks like matters. If it didn’t matter, then why bother to create the electron microscope? Why bother to use an electron microscope when you’re studying a molecular compound? Why assume zooming-in on the substance will be more useful than, say, eating it? Why do we even care about the substance? Do we think it can be useful to medicine, and want to improve medical treatments? Do we think this knowledge is intellectually valuable independent of application? You can’t begin a research project without making value judgements on what matters.
Consider a more specific example: painkillers. Deciding that treating physical pain matters, even if it doesn’t address physical damage, is highly motivated by ideology. It’s only logical to pursue pain treatment if you’ve already made the value judgement: does it matter if someone’s in physical pain? Keep in mind that saying no doesn’t mean you’re more objective. Deciding that it doesn’t matter is still a value-judgement. There’s no objective answer, and if you’re in search of one…buddy, that’s ideology (1) making you think such objectivity is valuable, and (2) masking what subjective values are actually driving your decision-making process. If you ask me, it’s bad to blind yourself from your own system of values. And my saying that is, itself, a value judgement.
This may seem pedantic until you realize how much these assumptions can impact actual people. For example, consider the concept of “predictive policing.” In the city of Chicago, violent crime and limited police officers motivated the Chicago Police to invest in crime-predicting software:
The Chicago police will use data and computer analysis to identify neighborhoods that are more likely to experience violent crime, assigning additional police patrols in those areas.
This may sound all well and good to a lot of people; however, an algorithm like this requires the assumption that the data we have on violent crime in Chicago is representative of all violent crime in Chicago. Further, patrolling could be based on violent crime data, but police would still be capable of arresting people for, say, underage drinking, once they’re there patrolling the area…are we assuming more run-ins with police at a young age will have no influence on a person later in life? Are we assuming it doesn’t matter if it does? Also, what counts as violent crime? According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent crime includes “murder, rape and sexual assault, robbery, and assault.” Rape is considered to be the most underreported of all violent crime, so data would almost certainly underrepresent acts of sexual assault. Does that matter? Whatever your answer is, that is a value-judgement. Further, wealth will often mean you have the means to (1) not get caught, and (2) argue the severity of the charges down in court, or even have them completely dropped. On (1), if you murder someone on your private estate, you’re less likely to be caught than if you do it on the streets. On (2), consider Jeffrey Epstein (deceased), the financier arrested for sex trafficking in 2019.
Epstein’s arrest has brought his many high-level connections into scrutiny. Epstein counts many famous figures in his social circle, including President Donald Trump—who once referred to him as a “terrific guy” —Prince Andrew and former President Bill Clinton, who took trips on his private jet.
There is credible rape allegations against high-profile people (like Joe Biden and Donald Trump), and more often than not, these people are never convicted. Even ignoring the role of corruption, this is unsurprising. A private jet isn’t going to have witnesses, surveillance footage, or police patrolling capable of catching criminals in the act. If we don’t acknowledge what assumptions go into this model, “predictive policing” can quickly turn into the over-policing of poor, black neighborhoods under the guise of “math.” It could also lead us to severely underestimate violence done by the very wealthy. Which, really bold assumption to deem that insignificant.
Algorithms like this have actually been proposed for non-violent crime-prediction (see the book Weapons of Math Destruction). This requires even more ideological value-assumptions. For instance, do we want police cracking down more on drug usage? A homeless person doing drugs is far more likely to have a run-in with police than someone doing drugs inside their own home, and this would skew police drug-usage data. Should homeless people be subjected to more policing than the wealthy? Should we invest in more police, or housing? Should we do neither? How do we invest? Do we tax the rich? Or do we prohibit the rich from profiting off wage labor entirely?
Are capitalists valuable to society?
Ideology influences how you observe something. If you believe racial differences play a fundamental role in behavior, this is going to change how you interpret both the present and the past. If you believe achievement is primarily based on merit, then you may ignore other factors leading to someone’s accomplishments. Ideology is deeply-ingrained, and often only subconsciously influences how we see the world. And just as you can’t set up a scientific experiment without making assumptions, you can’t navigate through the world without some sort of ideology…you can’t overcome ideological thinking.
But you can and (based on my own value judgement) should aim to be aware of what assumptions/values go into your own ideology, as well as the ideology motivating others (especially at the societal-level). For instance, do you think it’s bad to be angry? Is it good to be happy? Is it your responsibility to be happy, so as to not interfere with someone else’s happiness? Do you think people always act in self-interest? Do people even know what they want? What do you mean when you say someone is optimistic? Does civility matter? Are evictions inherently violent? What does it mean to be patriotic?
Is Harry Potter cool? The answer is no. Who imagines a world where magic is real, and everything is still regulated by bureaucrats. That’s fucking lame as shit.
For a look at how ideology relates to our response to the COVID-19 crisis, check out the following articles:
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” ― Helen Keller Neoliberalism largely functions via alienation, and crisis is not excluded from this. The inherent instability of capitalism inevitably leads to crisis; however, the experience of crisis is very often isolatedㅡby geographical region, time, or type. For example, economic expansion requires […]
Pictures added by Regina Larsen. In the past few months, the pandemic has laid bare the horrors of our global neoliberal system. Here’s some lessons I’ve learned since the outbreak of COVID-19: (1) All the resources and labor funneled into the military has done little to protect us from this crisis, and may even wind […]
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the near shutdown of the service industry. This has similarly led to mass unemployment in nearly every industry. Further, many people seeking work are now finding HR departments aren’t hiring, and many workers doing freelance/commission work have seen a standstill in project requests. Many of these people do not […]
If you feel alienated from other people, you may feel as if people don’t understand you. If you feel alienated from yourself, you likely feel as if you’re just sort of watching your life unfold without participating. While many seem to pretty intuitively understand these forms of alienation, they have difficulty seeing the connection between the two, and they have difficulty understanding other forms of alienation. For example, feeling alienated from your labor or from your environment (nature) are rarely given much genuine thought. Yet these are very, very often the root causes of alienation from yourself and from others. It’s also worth noting that if you feel alienated in one aspect of your life…you’re very likely experiencing alienation in other parts of your life, even if you don’t recognize that this is happening.
“By alienation I project an experience, which potentially is in me, to an object over there. I alienate myself from my own human experience and project this experience on something or somebody outside, and then try to get in touch with my own human being, by being in touch with the object to which I have projected my humanity. That holds for alienation and idolatry. The two terms refer exactly to the same phenomenon. The one term is used by Hegel and Marx and the other is used by the prophets of the Old Testament.”
— Erich Fromm, Beyond Freud: From Individual to Social Psychoanalysis
To clarify this definition of alienation, let’s look at a concrete example: alcoholism. The alcoholic’s feelings of alienation drives her to drink, while her over-drinking pushes the people in her life away, further alienating her. A community like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) disrupts this positive feedback loop.
NOTE: A positive feedback is when both behaviors encourage/exacerbate the other, e.g. alienation drives one to drink, while drinking exacerbates feelings of alienation. The word positive here does not indicate that the feedback is a good one. While a positive feedback could be good, the terminology itself is value-neutral.
People often discuss AA as if it is a medication that either works or doesn’t, but this framing is deceptive. AA can disrupt the drinking-alienation cycle, but the other positive feedbacks in the alcoholic’s life making her feel alienated (besides alcohol consumption, e.g. a deadend job, excessively alienating media propaganda, a narcissistic family member), can outweigh this…this isn’t a closed system. Assuming it is may be a reasonable assumption in some cases, but in others, such an assumption will lead to you ignoring the most significant forces (mechanisms) acting on the system. This is one way a mathematical model can be biased! This is also, more broadly, how scientific research can be biased.
That is, we must make assumptions about what factors matter. Do we consider that the alcoholic has difficulty making rent each month or do we deem that to be irrelevant? What about if she feels disconnected from her labor, where she only produces one component of a product, making her feel detached from the final product? What if her boss frequently talks down to her, telling her she can be replaced at any time? What if she has few opportunities to connect with her other coworkers? What if she feels that she is alone in her financial struggles, and so turns her anger inward at herself? What if she feels alienated from herself; that is, she feels as if she doesn’t even know what she herself wants from life? What if she believes her boss that she has no value? What if she doesn’t recognize herself? What if she feels trapped in her own life? Why would the living dead care about alcohol poisoning?
“By alienation is meant a mode of experience in which the person experiences himself as an alien. He has become, one might say, estranged from himself. He does not experience himself as the center of his world, as the creator of his own acts – but his acts and their consequences have become his masters, whom he obeys, or whom he may even worship. The alienated person is out of touch with himself as he is out of touch with any other person. He, like the others, are experienced as things are experienced; with the senses and with common sense, but at the same time without being related to oneself and to the world outside productively.”
— Erich Fromm, The Sane Society
I feel like a rat in a cage.
It’s often thought that drug and alcohol addiction are either purely biological (hereditary), or entirely due to a lack of willpower. However, there’s compelling reasons to believe that addiction is largely a response to alienation and poor material conditions.
While the argument that addiction is a willpower issue likely stems from the myth of American individualism (see Isolating COVID-19), the biological argument (at least in part) stems from a misinterpretation of an experiment looking into morphine usage in rats. A researcher observed rats kept in individual cages, each given unlimited access to morphine (there’s often a sort of “anything goes” vibe to scientific research…there is at least some truth in the notion of bourgeois science [paper in link is not in English]). He found that the rats would consume the drugs until intervention (removing access or overdose), and made the “discovery” that drug addiction is essentially a biological response that will take over once you’ve started using. This sort of conclusion based merely on observation of these rats is an example of a context-free ideology intervening in scientific inferences. The idea that these results were highly dependent on environmental context would go unaddressed for a while, allowing time for this “fact” to permeate general knowledge as a settled matter, “proven” with science.
Consider if you were placed in a cage by yourself, with nothing to do, and no reason to believe you would ever be getting out of the cage. Why the fuck wouldn’t you take morphine if you happened upon some in your otherwise empty cage? Why would you give a shit about it killing you? Are you not already dead?
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the near shutdown of the service industry. This has similarly led to mass unemployment in nearly every industry. Further, many people seeking work are now finding HR departments aren’t hiring, and many workers doing freelance/commission work have seen a standstill in project requests. Many of these people do not qualify for unemployment benefits. Without a freeze on rents and mortgages, we are hurtling straight for a housing crisis.
Further, members of the House and Senate traded stocks in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak in the States, protecting their assets rather than the American people. This is both Democrats and Republicans doing this! The Democrats even held presidential primaries during the outbreak…how is this acceptable to ask older or more vulnerable folks to come out to vote during a pandemic? How is it acceptable to ask younger, healthier folks to risk the health of others if they want to vote? The two candidates largely differed in their stance on healthcare reform, an incredibly important topic considering the current pandemic, and the DNC is essentially telling people in these districts, “come risk your own health and/or the health of others if you really want a say in American healthcare.” This is not the response of a legitimate political party. Meanwhile, the Republicans have been downplaying the pandemic, despite early warnings from public health officials. This is more than incompitent, this is corruption, plain and simple. Or more accurately, this is the system behaving as it’s intended to. That is, protecting the extremely wealthy by exploiting the working class.
For many still with work in the service industry, they continue to work paycheck-to-paycheck (78% of workers in the US live paycheck-to-paycheck). Without a freeze on rent, many of these employees will ignore symptoms and go in anyways, worsening the spread of COVID-19. Not to mention, many people in America still do not have healthcare. Well-funded media outlets are largely ignoring this connection between the pandemic and class, which is unsurprising as the people who own mass media outlets benefit from austerity policies.
Is this economic crisis anything new?
Check out this great video for a brief history of wealth and inequality in the West:
What do we do?
Beyond a RENT STRIKE, we need to move away from this profit-driven economic system towards a more socialized one. With all this talk of GDP and stock portfolios, you’d be forgiven if you’ve forgotten what an economic system is. So let’s be clear here:
An economic system is a resource distribution system.
With people starving, sick, and homeless…it may be time to reevaluate what we’re doing here because it’s not working. Hopefully our other article on COVID-19 makes it clear that this system hasn’t been working for a long time. If any of this is ringing true for you, please consider getting involved in a socialist party, such as Socialist Resurgence…at the very least, I urge everyone to check out what they have to say about this crisis and its subsequent economic recession in the article The disease is capitalism: global economic crisis.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
― Helen Keller
Neoliberalism largely functions via alienation, and crisis is not excluded from this. The inherent instability of capitalism inevitably leads to crisis; however, the experience of crisis is very often isolatedㅡby geographical region, time, or type. For example, economic expansion requires environmental exploitation, but for many, this exploitation is happening over there. They don’t see it and they don’t experience the direct negative consequences of it, so even if they’re aware it’s happening, it feels distant. They are physically isolated from the crisis of an oil spill. We can also feel temporal isolation from a shared crisis. The majority of people will feel the crisis of being unable to find work at some point in their life. Yet, the unemployment crisis often feels like a personal crisis because we are the only one feeling the crisis in the moment. Time separates our experience of the crisis. Then there is the most complex way crises are alienatedㅡthat is, by type. Homelessness, incarceration, routine hunger, being without care during a medical illness, drug addiction…while these are all crises, they’re very often viewed as completely independent and unrelated experiences. In reality, these crises are not unrelated, and for the Left, the relationship is obvious. A capitalist economic system directly causes (or severely exacerbates) all of these crises (see footnote , as well as Capital by Karl Marx, or for a soft-intro on the concepts of capitalism and alienation, check out Pod Damn America’s podcast episode Matt Christman’s Softcore History).
The Spectacle of Crisis
“By alienation is meant a mode of experience in which the person experiences himself as an alien. […] The alienated person is out of touch with himself as he is out of touch with any other person. He, like the others, are experienced as things are experienced; with the senses and with common sense, but at the same time without being related to oneself and to the world outside positively.”
― Erich Fromm, The Sane Society
The segregation of crisis experience keeps people alienated from one another, and from a shared reality. The individual in crisis can’t help but feel alone, unable to relate to the experiences conveyed by others. Beyond loneliness, this can further lend to feelings of rejection, shame, or resentment. Feeling emotionally defensive, the individual will now be even more likely to dismiss or minimize the emotions of others in crisisㅡthe alienation from crisis recognition. Alternatively, they may feel unable to convey solidarity with wordsㅡthe alienation from language. Capitalism alienates us from ourselves, from each other, from our labor…but it also isolates us from collective reality, leaving us with the spectacle in the absence of shared experience. The spectacle is “separation perfected,” or,
“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation. […]
The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification. As a part of society it is specifically the sector which concentrates all gazing and all consciousness. Due to the very fact that this sector is separate, it is the common ground of the deceived gaze and of false consciousness, and the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of generalized separation.”
Note: Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle can be a difficult text to comprehend…for a very approachable and entertaining intro to the ideas it covers, check out Peter Coffin’s youtube channelㅡspecifically his video Cultural Appropriation and The Spectacle
In the midst of social distancing recommendations, COVID-19 is actually connecting crises that we generally experience as segmented, unrelated personal crises. Unemployment, food shortages, inability to access adequate treatment/care, loneliness, boredom…instead of experiencing these crises as a series of personal experiences, we are made all too aware of their connection to the pandemic. Connect this pandemic to our economic system of production, and class consciousness becomes increasingly likely. Why are authority figures acting like “business as usual”, when we all know someone who’s been laid off? Why is there relief going towards stabilizing the stock market, but the elderly are still being forced to go into public spaces to buy groceries? How can we shift to online schooling when there’s families without the computers/technology necessary for this to be a viable option? What good is good healthcare when so many people can’t afford to see a doctor, or to even self-quarantine? ICE agents continue to make arrestsㅡwon’t this type of policing prevent many from seeking testing when they show symptoms? What are containment measures for the incarcerated? Where do I get tested? How am I supposed to pay for an ambulance ride when I have to make rent and my hours have been cut down? I might be sick, but how am I going to pay for groceries if I miss my shift and pay a babysitter now that my kid’s out of school?
Right now, the depressed person that feels socially alone, the sick person made to keep going to work, the hungry person worried about how she’ll feed her kids without school lunch…these crises are always happening under capitalism. Yet they normally appear segmented, and therefore seem unrelated and uncommon. But now the obvious relation these crises have to the COVID-19 pandemic links them all. Crisis alienation is worn down by a crisis we know is happening everywhereㅡthe illusion that these are personal crises cannot be maintained in the way it normally is.
One may argue that there are frequent shared crises to look back onㅡthe collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11 may come to mind if you’re American. Putting aside the fact that this being an American crisis means it was a physically isolated crisis, let’s consider that manyㅡperhaps mostㅡAmericans felt alienated from this event. The spectacle of crisis always has this way of feeling performative, even optional. We can choose to partake in this communal crisis (and we’ll often want to because we’re isolated and therefore seek out social connection); however, the knowledge that you can “opt out” is always there. Even if opting out isn’t an option for you, the knowledge that it is for other people gives the crisis this sense of artificiality. This has nothing to do with whether or not one should partake, rather the material and mental option to “opt out” and resume “business as usual” is concretely there, whether or not you think that option is a moral one. For the vast majority of Americans, the option to “opt out” of the crisis of 9/11 existed. While far less spectacular, COVID-19 isn’t a crisis most people can ignore. They can’t ignore that their spouse or roommate lost their job. They can’t ignore that their parent or college professor is in a high-risk pool of individuals. They can’t ignore their children being out of school. These aren’t choices, they’re crises acting upon them, whether they like it or not. This isn’t just spectacle, and for many well-off people in the US, this may be the first “national crisis” they genuinely can’t choose to “opt out” ofㅡhopefully this clarifies the distinction here between shared crises and the spectacle of shared crisis (which can still very much be real crises for a great many people).
Cultural Myths and Independence
For many, the COVID-19 crisis is being experienced in physical quarantine, yet this crisis may push many towards a more social, less individualistic understanding of human connection. That is, one where human relation goes beyond the exchange of goods and services. The pandemic makes it clear just how reliant we are on one another. Not only is the lone wolf a myth, it’s a dangerous one. Human love is central to everything we do on this earth…you can only “opt out” by living your life in delusion. The compulsion to control all the wealth on earth for one’s own consumption is just that, a compulsion. The nationalist fixation on “securing the border,” the stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction, and, perhaps most peculiar, the wealthy scrambling to purchase fallout bunkers and helicopter escape pads…this is the neurotic behavior of an obsessive-compulsive. It is the physical manifestation of a debilitating mental obsession that one is entirely self-reliant in the face of the obvious lived reality that one is simply not. Not only will these material pursuits not lead to salvation, there is also the obvious reality that other people produced these things. No one person can build a luxury fallout shelter on his own (you couldn’t even extract the natural resources needed on your own!), and this unavoidable reality leads one to the schizophrenic fascination with commodity ownershipㅡhoarding. We need a global reconciliation of our relationships with our fellow men, and this is going to require a conscious reduction of materialism, e.g. the endless pursuit of possessions, not that we ought to abandon material analysis in favor of philosophical idealism.
Note: It is interesting how modern capitalism has muddied the meaning of the terms idealism and materialism, such that colloquial usage is almost directly opposed to the original philosophical meaningㅡsee the article Why was Marx a materialist?. This is arguably, on the societal-scale, an indication of how neoliberalism has alienated us from language, as it has alienated us from the material world (reality) on the whole.
“The need for speed and newness, which can only be satisfied by consumerism, reflects restlessness, the inner flight from oneself.”
― Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be? The Nature of the Psyche
Perhaps COVID-19 will make clear to more people that capitalism is not a rational system, so much as it is a rationalizing system, and, in the words of Erich Fromm, “rationalizing is not a tool for penetration of reality but a post-factum attempt to harmonize one’s own wishes with existing reality.” Previously it was unimaginable that labor pause for even a moment, lest we risk our supposedly-fragile social ties to one another and inevitably devolve into violent chaos. Yet, with the closing of factories, schools, churches/Mosques, football stadiums, amusement parks, and resorts, this century-long assumption is dissolving. And in fact, it’s becoming more clear that we don’t need police, lawyers, and military to “maintain order”…we don’t need professionals to negotiate the distance between us, as it’s this thinking that’s caused that social alienation to begin with. We don’t need the authority of capitalism to enforce labor because production in pursuit of obscene wealth doesn’t actually create systems that care for people.
This isn’t a rational economic arrangement, rather it’s the rationalization of the addict, the obsessive-compulsive…it’s no surprise that late-stage capitalism is marked by an exponential rise in mental health crises. Further, it’s no surprise that reduced isolation (such as in the form of a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous) is more often than not the remedy to a “personal” mental crisis. Neoliberalism and its fixation on hyper-individualism is the delusion and the crisisㅡthe lone wolf, the entrepreneur, the self-made man, the girl boss…these are selfish aspirations. This isn’t a moral judgement, it’s an acknowledgment that excessive self-interest, as well as excessive self-evaluation, are both compulsive responses to severe alienationㅡfrom oneself, other beings, and reality:
“The failure of modern culture lies not in its principle of individualism, not in the idea that moral virtue is the same as the pursuit of self-interest, but in the deterioration of the meaning of self-interest; not in the fact that people are too much concerned with their self-interest, but that they are not concerned enough with the interest of their real self; not in the fact that they are too selfish, but that they do not love themselves. […] Selfish persons are incapable of loving others, but they are not capable of loving themselves either”
― Erich Fromm, Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics
“Selfishness is not identical with self-love but with its very opposite. Selfishness is one kind of greediness. Like all greediness, it contains an insatiability, as a consequence of which there is never any real satisfaction. Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom
People often repeat the phrase “ignorance is bliss,” but ignorance of neoliberalism’s far-reaching influence on all aspects of life will not end in a personal feeling of well-being. Pursuit of personal happiness exclusively will not lead to happiness. The fact that anyone thinks otherwise is a testament to just how alienated we are from ourselves. The classification of narcissism and greed as morally wrong, but still personally beneficial, is a collective delusion. One that signals the complete infiltration of capitalist dogma into every last aspect of life. You’re not apolitical, you’re not moderate or practical, and you’re not uninterested…you very likely don’t know enough to even make such a claim. You’re distracting yourself because the only thing you fear more than non-existence is existence. The only thing scarier than death is life.
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
― Helen Keller
 “Once the primary bonds which gave security to the individual are severed, once the individual faces the world outside of himself as a completely separate entity, two courses re-open to him since he has to overcome the unbearable state of powerlessness and aloneness. By one course he can progress to “positive freedom”; he can relate himself spontaneously to the world in love and work, in the genuine expression of his emotional, sensuous and intellectual capacities; he can thus become one again with man, nature, and himself, without giving up the independence and integrity of his individual self. The other course open to him is to fall back, to give up his freedom, and to try to overcome his aloneness by eliminating the gap that has arisen between his individual self and the world. This second course never reunites him with the world in the way he was related to it before he merged as an “individual,” for the fact of his separateness cannot be reversed; it is an escape from an unbearable situation which would make life impossible if it were prolonged. This course of escape, therefore, is characterized by its compulsive character, like every escape from threatening panic; it is also characterized by the more or less complete surrender of individuality and the integrity of the self. Thus it is not a solution which leads to happiness and positive freedom; it is, in principle, a solution which is to be found in all neurotic phenomena. It assuages an unbearable anxiety and makes life possible by avoiding panic; yet it does not solve the underlying problem and is paid for by a kind of life that often consists only of automatic or compulsive activities.”
― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom
 “Among the many forms of alienation, the most frequent one is alienation in language. If I express a feeling with a word, let us say, if I say “I love you,” the word is meant to be an indication of the reality which exists within myself, the power of my loving. The word “love” is meant to be a symbol of the fact love, but as soon as it is spoken it tends to assume a life of its own, it becomes a reality. I am under the illusion that the saying of the word is the equivalent of the experience, and soon I say the word and feel nothing, except the thought of love which the word expresses. The alienation of language shows the whole complexity of alienation. Language is one of the most precious human achievements; to avoid alienation by not speaking would be foolish — yet one must be always aware of the danger of the spoken word, that it threatens to substitute itself for the living experience. The same holds true for all other achievements of man; ideas, art, any kind of man-made objects. They are man’s creations; they are valuable aids for life, yet each one of them is also a trap, a temptation to confuse life with things, experience with artifacts, feeling with surrender and submission.” ― Erich Fromm,Marx’s Concept of Man
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the near shutdown of the service industry. This has similarly led to mass unemployment in nearly every industry. Further, many people seeking work are now finding HR departments aren’t hiring, and many workers doing freelance/commission work have seen a standstill in project requests. Many of these people do not […]
The global movement demanding action be taken to combat climate change has been gaining momentum. It has also sparked a conversation around socialism—people are striking for real change, not just un-serious technocratic solutions.
There has also been a disturbing recuperation of the movement. Capitalists and class traitors are attempting to redirect the movement—these people are not interested in saving people nor the environment, rather, they are interested in saving capitalism. Business seeks only to commodify the movement, thereby diluting the revolutionary message.
While the environmental crisis threatens the lives of the proletariat classes, capitalists continue to exacerbate the problem, all while toting “green” versions of products. This frames the problem as a consumer choice, and obscures the real power dynamics at play; that is, that the very wealthy profit off of environmental degradation and that, in much of the world, the extremely wealthy drive production. It’s supply and demand, as in, the wealthy and powerful demand, and us workers supply. Or, as equity researchers in a citigroup industry note gleefully put it, “we hear so often about ‘the consumer’. But when we examine the data, there is no such thing as ‘the consumer’ in the U.S. or UK, or other plutonomy countries. There are rich consumers, and there are the rest. The rich are getting richer, we have contended, and they dominate consumption.” 
We cannot let the current energy towards the climate crisis be absorbed by “green capitalism”. Let us not mince words here, “green capitalism” is, at its best, a PR tool meant to shift the problem away from those actually responsible. While their profits are concentrated, they wish to redistribute blame equally. The “human race” has not caused this threat, capitalism has. “Green capitalism” is merely a cynical attempt by the wealthy and powerful to raid our collective piggy banks and channel trillions of pounds and dollars into the pockets of venture capitalists, who have leapt aboard the “climate justice” bandwagon in the hope of getting very rich, very quick.
These people are not serious about addressing climate change, for if they were, they would admit that free-market capitalism, privatization, and deregulation have all led to the mass extinction event we are currently in. They will destroy the earth, and run off to luxury survival bunkers if we allow them to dictate the direction of the climate movement—we cannot stand by and allow this to happen. Doing this will lead to death and suffering, and we cannot continue to pretend otherwise.